Following U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan and growing tensions in the Taiwan Strait in the aftermath, the Cold War mentality is back in force, highlighting Taiwan as a potential flashpoint between the United States and China. The unfolding crisis between Washington and Beijing could rewrite the future of both powers as well as regional countries in a way that the world can barely imagine. In his latest book “The Avoidable War: The Dangers of a Catastrophic Conflict Between the US and Xi Jinping’s China,” Kevin Rudd, former prime minister of Australia, warned that “the 2020s loom as a decisive decade in the overall dynamics of the changing balance of power” between Washington and Beijing.
But even for other Indo-Pacific countries, a large-scale conflagration would potentially lead to a distortion of the regional and international rules-based order, which regional countries joined hands to build up and have sought to uphold. China’s recent saber-rattling and menacing wargames around Taiwan are blatant efforts aimed at establishing a “new normal” across the Taiwan Strait, a gradual strategy utilized to isolate the island democracy. And these moves could trigger miscalculations and conflicts that would spiral out of control, rendering a spill-over effect to the Indo-Pacific region.
More than ever, Taiwan needs international support and solidarity. Routine interactions between Taiwan and like-minded countries have become even more imperative at a time when China is acting more assertively. Legislative delegations have emerged as one way in which like-minded countries could support Taiwan. Such visits are consequential as they help demonstrate that China cannot stop foreign dignitaries from visiting Taiwan.
The presence of foreign parliamentarians in Taiwan is necessary as it could help showcase the importance of Taiwan in the eyes of their home nations. Lawmakers, especially those in Europe, play a constructive role during the law-making process, exercising legislative authority, overseeing budget processes, and calling for the amendment of legislation if deemed necessary. They play a significant role in both domestic affairs, like human rights and socio-environmental issues, and foreign affairs, such as issues relating to foreign, trade and security policy.
With their influence and reputation, legislators could speak up for Taiwan and support Taiwan’s participation in international institutions. Already, European lawmakers have raised the significance of collaborating with Taiwan and made Taiwan visible in European politics.
Since January 2021, European Parliament Vice President Nicola Beer and members of her delegation, who visited Taiwan in July this year, have worked actively to raise Taiwan-related issues in the European Parliament and helped pass 20 resolutions supporting Taiwan.
Beyond rhetorical support, these visits can incubate economic schemes and collaborative programs that later begin to crystalize into concrete actions. Following congressional delegations from Europe to Taiwan, the European Parliament passed resolutions backing Taiwan’s participation in international organizations and called on partners of the European Union, such as Japan, New Zealand, Australia, and India, to voice support for Taiwan against Beijing’s intimidation. European companies also followed suit by enhancing ties with Taiwan via collaborating with Taiwanese partners on joint projects, notably green energy, the offshore wind industry, digital innovation, biotechnology, and electric vehicles.
Delegations to Taiwan serve a diplomatic purpose and are largely ceremonial. Yet, beneath the surface, these visits help strengthen unofficial ties and keep bilateral relations on the right track. Open lines of communication between Taiwan and countries that do not have official relationships with Taiwan help enhance diplomatic ties, forge mutual understanding, demonstrate explicit friendship, and further the possibility of exploring opportunities and channels for collaboration.
Upon their return, lawmakers could enact policies to address the interests, concerns, and orientations that their countries and Taiwan have in common. For instance, after their Taiwan visit in April, U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham and Robert Menendez, who have long contributed to help enhance Taiwan-U.S. trade ties and introduced numerous pro-Taiwan bills, introduced the bipartisan Taiwan Policy Act of 2022 in June. The bill was proposed to set actionable initiatives to boost Taiwan’s defense capabilities, support Taiwan’s democratic institutions, back Taiwan’s international participation, and lay out new mechanisms to deter Beijing’s aggression toward Taipei.
In recent years, Japanese parliamentary delegations have been also active in making visits to Taiwan to exchange bilateral views on regional security issues and show support for Taiwan in opposition to China’s aggression. In fact, a delegation from Japan arrived in Taiwan shortly after Pelosi’s visit. These visits have been in line with the increasing maturity of the relationship between Tokyo and Taipei.
The prospect for still more visits to Taiwan is promising as lawmakers are increasingly prioritizing Taiwan’s security and seeking to enhance economic ties. Two separate German delegations and a European trade committee plan to visit Taiwan in October and December, respectively. In a similar vein, a Canadian congressional delegation plans to visit Taiwan later this year to explore trade opportunities.
Taiwan today is a vibrant democracy with appreciable contributions toward helping the international community. The Tsai Ing-wen administration, for instance, offered assistance to several countries in the Indo-Pacific and Europe by providing medical face masks and sharing Taiwan’s hands-on experience of combatting the COVID-19 pandemic under the motto “Taiwan Can Help, and Taiwan is Helping!” Despite its modest engagement in global institutions, Taiwan’s efforts to be an international responsible stakeholder should be recognized and supported.
For future visits to materialize, regional countries should foster meaningful ties with Taiwan based on both moral and strategic considerations. Countries around the world now possess a moral rationale for supporting Taipei, as preventing Beijing from encroaching on Taiwan would be a major step toward safeguarding regional stability. As direct representatives of the people, parliamentarians are well suited to send the message that support for Taiwan should be prioritized amid rising authoritarian coercion. Parliamentarians coming to Taiwan should make clear that supporting Taiwan is not only feasible but even a must for peace-loving nations.
Another vital aspect of those visits is to make the international community, policymakers, and ordinary people more aware of the strategic importance of Taiwan as the frontline of the battle against authoritarianism. One of the cornerstones of regional security is the balance of power that the United States and its allies have fortified in the post-Cold War era. But this power equilibrium has become more fragile due to China’s growing economic and military power. To counterbalance China and support Taiwan at the same time, enhancing pragmatic cooperation with Taipei and making regular visits a normal part of interactions should be a requisite for bolstering the current status quo across the Taiwan Strait, thus preventing China from successfully reshaping the regional order and becoming a domineering regional hegemon.
But for any such delegation to be effective in providing tangible benefits for Taiwan, it must have a comprehensive agenda instead of just serving as a symbolic gesture. A visit to Taiwan must be the beginning, not the end, of lawmakers’ substantial engagement.